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China, India and Brazil in favour of UN resolution describing Russia as aggressor – SA abstains – what now?

China, India and Brazil in favour of UN resolution describing Russia as aggressor – SA abstains – what now?
Screens show the recorded vote of member countries as the United Nations General Assemble passes a resolution calling for peace in Ukraine during the 11th Emergency Session of the United Nations at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 23 February 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Lane)

The South African government’s justification for its moral dereliction in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine was dealt a severe blow after the majority of BRICS nations voted for a UN resolution which described Russia as an aggressor in Ukraine and Georgia.

South Africa has justified its decision to refuse to condemn Russian aggression by saying it is aligned with the BRICS nations and not “the West” because this is where the future of the global economy lies.

That explanation no longer holds as China, India and Brazil have voted in favour of the UN resolution on “cooperation between the United Nations and the Council of Europe”.

The resolution describes Russia as an aggressor in Ukraine and calls for those responsible for violations to be brought to book under international law. The UN recognises the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While the resolution did not refer directly to Putin, it supported moves to “bring to justice all those responsible for the violations of international law”.

South Africa abstained, while Russia voted against the resolution, suggesting that its diplomacy is now out of sync, not only with its major trading partners in the West but also with China, India and Brazil among the BRICS nations.

The resolution referred to “the unprecedented challenges now facing Europe following the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, and against Georgia prior to that, and the cessation of the membership of the Russian Federation in the Council of Europe”.

It called for cooperation between the UN and the Council of Europe “in order to promptly restore and maintain peace and security based on respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of any State, ensure the observance of human rights and international humanitarian law during the hostilities”.

The resolution was supported by an overwhelming majority of states, with 122 voting in favour and only five against. South Africa was among 18 countries with dubious human rights and democracy records such as Central African Republic, Eritrea and Sudan that abstained, suggesting a growing isolation from global consensus on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Of the African states present for the vote, more voted in favour than abstained, with the continent’s biggest players on the world stage — Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya — all voting for the resolution.

They were joined by Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Libya, Malawi, Morocco, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Zambia.

Ukraine’s permanent representative to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said: “The Russian Federation’s attempt to remove the mention of aggression against Ukraine failed in the General Assembly.”

South Africa has consistently abstained on UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, breaking ranks with most African democracies and alienating its major trading partners in the West.

The South African government also held joint naval exercises with Russia on the first anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine and has held frequent meetings with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in which Russia has been described as a “friend”.

A Chinese puzzle

As Russia appears increasingly isolated and condemned, the question is: Why would China, its most important ally hitherto, vote against Russia?

It may be putting Moscow to terms, weakening and isolating it further, and extracting more concessions in the process. It could also be hedging its bets on a pending Russian loss on the battlefield, perhaps the same reason President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey (another one to vote against Russia) eventually agreed to Finnish membership of Nato.

Most likely it says something about where China sees its future — not as a member of the BRICS cluster, but as a great power in its own right, its stated ambition for 2049.

If this is the case, what options does this leave South Africa?

To keep on ploughing an increasingly lonely (and probably costly) furrow in support of Moscow, or follow the example of the legendary Springbok Mannetjies Roux, and use a step to the side, a wiggle of the hips and a scorching turn of speed, and develop a searingly critical and independent position which is in South Africa’s interest? 

This would be less to do with BRICS — an increasingly hollow vessel with little in the way of common ideals between the five members — and more to do with democratic values, and trade and investment. The latter could be centred on a set of free trade areas, not unlike what fast-growing Latin American and Asian states have pursued. South Africa’s GDP puts it in the league of Bangladesh, Singapore, Vietnam, Egypt, Colombia and Pakistan.

And the reinvigoration of South Africa’s human rights position could help to permit it to play a mediation role, a task with which no one would now trust Pretoria.

China’s change of heart, if that’s what it is, on its unqualified support for Moscow should at least remind Pretoria’s own mandarins that they are acting first and foremost in the interests of South Africans. DM

Greg Mills and Ray Hartley are with The Brenthurst Foundation.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nichola Roy Roy says:

    The obvious question that I would love to have answered is this: Which official palm (or palms) is being greased with Russian money to keep SA on Team Russia? This whole thing stinks of corruption. A familiar smell that seems to hang above SA an awful lot these days.

    • Glyn Silberman says:

      Very good question.

    • Fox Bravo.. says:

      you need to read Tim Cohen’s article google “after-the-bell-russia-united-manganese-of-kalahari-and-the-ancs-testicles”

      • George Olivier says:

        100% and it goes a lot deeper than that. Next thing the ANC will rig a tender in favour of a Russian built nuclear power plant.

    • Confucious Says says:

      More likely an anus than a palm!

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Perhaps it’s just a question of extreme stupidity and inexperience when dealing with all things first world! Understanding the issue is the first thing to understand…without that you’re in free fall which seems to be the ANC’s go-to mode at present!

    • Vincent L says:

      It would not surprise me, besides the Manganese palm greasing, that other palms are being greased. I have a strong suspicion that South Africa will probably produce more platinum and diamonds this year than will actually be mined!!

  • Geoff Krige says:

    The article gives an interesting perspective on the growing international isolation faced by South Africa, thanks to the ANC. But it makes one big mistake “China’s change of heart . . should remind Pretoria’s own mandarins that they are acting first and foremost in the interests of South Africans”. The ANC can’t be reminded of what it is not now, and has not been doing for at least the last 15 years. The ANC is not acting in the interests of South Africans. The ANC is acting in the interests of the ANC and its corrupt associates. In my view there is one reason for ongoing ANC support for Russia – much better opportunities for “consulting fees” than are offered by business deals with other countries.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    In SA’s anc government, one is dealing with the most stupid, brain-dead, treasonous, immoral and hypocritical bunch of morons. It has to do that Putin’s Russia is funding the anc. Why all of a sudden, are they able to pay all the salaries etc? They have sold out the country to the most despicable and evil modern day mass-murdering thug and monster in Putin, and it stinks to high heaven. SA will pay dearly for this crime.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    There can be only 1 logical reason remaining for the ANC continuing to defy decency and sense by not condemning Russia:


    Anything else indicates pure stupid.

    • Dhasagan Pillay says:

      At this point I’m simply looking forward to seeing a raft of election posters from the entire politic spectrum quoting Nelson Mandela… “If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do what to the ANC, what you did to the Apartheid government.”

  • Hermann Funk says:

    A President (Ramaphosa) who claims that he defends human rights yet supports a criminal government that kidnapped over 20,000 Ukrainian children has no credibility.

  • Johan Herholdt says:

    In true South ANC style, they were probably late to the BRICS meeting and therefore didn’t quite get what it was about. (Probably working away at the speech to explain why SA is leaving the International Court, or maybe they just overslept). So, they decided to do what they always do – nothing. We are now even out of step with the ANC’s big friend Cuba (who voted ‘yes’ to the resolution).

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    It was interesting to listen to Ronald Lamolas recent ‘Palestinian’ argument being used to bash the ICC. It left me thinking whether the ANC are genuinely concerned about the Palestinian cause or whether the conflict has greater value to them as a diplomatic weapon to justify their own lack of moral & ethical consistency? Closer to home the ANC has consistently voted ‘self interest’ in favor of its relationship with its Alliance Partners & at the expense of the interests & future wellbeing of ordinary South Africans. Why then would it have genuine affinity for the Palestinian cause or in this particular instance Russia unless it had self serving value to them?

  • friendleigh2 says:

    We were polecats in the 60’s, 70’s ,80’s and early 90’s then, now we are again- well done the ANC. You are not my government, nor do you represent me.

  • Don Garcia says:

    Putin is being more and more isolated due to it’s aggressive uncalled for silly war! Unfortunately people are dying. Ramaphosa and his cronies in the ANC aught to wake up and ditch Russia once and for all. We all pray for a speedy end to this war of aggression, and also for a change of government in South Africa

  • Pierre Coetzer says:

    Which UN resolution does this article refer to ? A General Assembly resolution ? A security council resolution? When exactly was it passed ? The picture seems to be linked to a vote in February 2023, yet if China voted in favour of calling the invasion an “agression”, this would indicate a very strong shift in their position, and would have created global headlines. Greg Mills, can you please provide more details ?

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    I am really happy that China is beginning to turn around and starts to move towards repairing the rules-based international political system. Maybe this is the start to move towards a situation where the UN Security Council is replaced by a committee who will not be immobilised by the old superpower veto’s as is the SC.

  • Change is good sa says:

    The ANC government and party sold South Africa to the Gupta’s from India.
    We now have another band of merry men landing on our sovereign soil from the UAE with no documentation. What part of South Africa has been sold to the UAE is not quite clear yet.
    So, what does Russia have on us. How big is the pot of money that they are offering and who is going to benefit. What part of South Africa are the ANC selling now.
    There is no other explanation for abstaining.

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    President Ramaphosa,
    Pray tell me sir, what your position would be if a neighbour attacked South Africa in the same manner as Russia has dome to Ukraine?
    In keeping with your premise that Russia is not an aggressor, I presume that any attack by a neighbour would be considered an unfortunate event, you would abstain from taking any defensive actions and a few weeks later, convene a Committee to discuss what your legal position is, whilst the neighbour ransacked the country.
    The Committee subsequently advised that Sa was a sovereign country, was entitled to defend itself and that SA should appeal to the United Nations Security Council to condemn this attack.
    The member countries all abstained from the vote!

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